Popular Economics Weekly
The answer is so simple, and sad. Mr. Moore’s latest eye-opening documentary, “Where To Invade Next?” visits countries that have learned from, and adopted our laws and policies, policies that no longer exist in the U.S. of A.; such as tuition-free public colleges (Slovenia), prison systems that rehabilitate rather than punish (Norway), where drug use is not a crime (Portugal), and 8 weeks paid vacation is the law (Italy).
His film shows America on the way to becoming a Third World country, somewhat lost in the last century and falling behind other developed countries and many developing countries, in caring for our citizens.
Perhaps the most moving segment was that on women’s rights. We who were not able to pass the Equal Rights Amendment that prevented discrimination against women in the 1970s, were imitated in countries like Iceland with the first democratically elected President in 1980, and where women’s rights are enshrined in their constitution (Tunisia, a Muslim country).
For some reason, beginning in the 1970s, these countries began to give more rights to their citizens, while America, the world’s oldest democracy, took them away. Germany has enshrined collective bargaining in their corporations, where 50 percent of the governing board has to be made up of its employees, whereas many states in the U.S. have either banned collective bargaining, or the paying of dues to support collective bargaining, in 25 right to work states.
And Icelandic corporations must have at least 40 percent of each gender on their boards, which was made law after 2008 and the collapse of their banking system. The 3 largest banks all filed for bankruptcy, and some of their all-male executives went to jail, the result of “excessive, testosterone-driven risk taking” said a commentator on their trials. The result was a mass revolt by Iceland’s women that demanded a greater role in the running of their own country.
Michael Moore interviewed Iceland’s special prosecutor for financial crimes, Olafur Hauksson, who said he had learned his prosecution techniques from Bill Black, a U.S. special prosecutor who had convicted bank executives resulting from our Savings and Loan scandal. But no U.S. executive has been prosecuted since, much less convicted, for their excessive risk-taking and disregard of financial regulations during the subprime meltdown and Great Recession.
Why have such more modern democracies passed us by? Moore hints that maybe they have learned from their horrific past of religious and world wars to care better for their citizens. But the U.S. hasn’t learned from the biggest stain on our democracy—slavery. We still enslave mostly African Americans in our prisons, thanks to the war on drugs initiated by President Nixon, after President Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act that finally gave Blacks the same rights as other American citizens.
While crime rates have gone down, the number of people incarcerated has gone up in U.S. prisons. According to Human Rights Watch, 2.3 million people were incarcerated as of 2007. The United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world with a staggering 762 per 100,000 residents. Compare this to the U.K. whose rate is 152 per 100,000 residents, or Canada whose rate is 102.
So many prisoners create a large workforce. According to truth-out and the Left Business Observer, “the federal prison industry produces 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 percent of stove assembly; 46 percent of body armor; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21 percent of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.”
And why do we no longer have tuition-free public colleges? It perhaps began when Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California in 1966, UC Berkeley was a hotbed of protests, and tuition-free for California residents.
Governor Reagan didn’t believe such an education should be free for rebellious college students. His most famous action of that time was the firing of the UC Berkeley Chancellor Clark Kerr for not following his orders to ban the student protests. Reagan vowed to “clean up that mess in Berkeley,” warned audiences of “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you,” complained that outside agitators were bringing left-wing subversion into the university, and railed against spoiled children of privilege skipping their classes to go to protests, according to Dissent Magazine, describing that time:
“He cut state funding for higher education, laid the foundations for a shift to a tuition-based funding model, and called in the National Guard to crush student protest, which it did with unprecedented severity. But he was only able to do this because he had already successfully shifted the political debate over the meaning and purpose of public higher education in America.”
California was becoming more conservative, in other words. Instead of seeing the education of the state’s youth as a patriotic duty and a vital weapon in the Cold War, Reagan cast universities as a problem in and of themselves—“both an expensive welfare program and dangerously close to socialism”. He even argued for the importance of tuition-based funding by suggesting that if students had to pay, they’d value their education too much to protest.
Reagan’s assault against higher education was only the beginning of the neo-cons attack on our educational system. Their real purpose was an attempt to dumb down the electorate by crippling our public school and university systems. The fewer that were well educated meant the fewer could challenge the power of those that supported the so-called Reagan Revolution.
So there is a reason our educational system ranks lower than 20 or more countries in the world. M Moore visited Finland to learn why they are ranked #1 in the world, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), “a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues.”
He interviewed teachers, students, and education officials. They all said their students’ welfare came first, and standardized tests should be abandoned. They had learned from our educational system that once upon a time allowed more free time for social interaction, little or no homework, when music and art were an important part of our educational curriculum from elementary school onward.
Perhaps that is the saddest revelation of Michael’s film. How we have come to undervalue the lives of so many American citizens, including our own women and children.
Harlan Green © 2016
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